French Decor & GardensInspireKeith Van Sickle

Villa Benkemoun Swirling 70s Architecture in Arles

Just four kilometres from the center of Arles sits the Villa Benkemoun, a magnificent estate designed by a disciple of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Visiting it is like stepping back in time.

Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun

The villa was the brainchild of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun, a couple that moved from Algeria to Arles in 1962. They worked hard to establish themselves there, and a decade later enlisted their friend Émile Sala to design their dream home. Sala, a native of Arles, took an unusual approach.

Designing the Villa

Instead of creating an initial set of architectural drawings, Sala began by asking the family to jot down, day by day, how they lived their lives. Where did they take their meals, how did they entertain, did they spend time indoors or out? Then he used this knowledge to design a home that fit their needs, as well as Pierre’s desire to have a home that was “open and transparent.”

Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun

The Benkemouns liked Sala’s initial design but thought it had too many sharp edges. They suggested rounding a corner here, creating a curve there, until the house took the form they wanted. The final design was made up of round and elliptical rooms, “full of sensuality,” that seemed to swirl from one to the other.

A Modern Masterpiece

The result is a triumph of 1970s design, a masterpiece of modern architecture. The home is large—500 square meters, with five bedrooms—and full of light. It wraps around a central courtyard and includes a pool and pool house on the one-hectare property.

Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun

The architectural features are delightful. There is a capsule-shaped bathroom, perfect for long soaks. A spectacular chrome-plated chimney hood cascades down above the fireplace, bringing to mind falling water. And the specially-designed ceramic floors invite barefoot walking on a hot summer day.

Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun

The couple filled the house with colourful avant-garde furniture, making it a true reflection of their time. They raised their family there and lived comfortably for many years. In 2015, in a rare honor, the villa was recognized by the French Ministry of Culture as “Heritage of the 20th Century.”

The Villa Benkemoun Today

By 2017 both Simone and Pierre had passed away. Their daughter Brigitte decided to refurbish the home and open it to the public, and after two years of work, the house was returned to its original glory. Most of the 1970s-era furniture was still in place and the missing pieces were replaced with others from that period. Today, visiting the villa is like stepping back in time, with orange chairs and all (leisure suits not included.)

Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun

The house is available to rent, for conferences or dinners or other special events. It also hosts art exhibitions and is occasionally open for tours. For those wishing to stay in a one-of-a-kind location, it is can be rented by the week.

Villa Benkemoun Architecture Arles © Serge Benkemoun

Practical information

Villa Benkemoun (website)
915 rue de la Batelle,
13200 Arles

All photos of Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun

Please share this with friends and family.

Previous post

Lavender the Summer Blue-Gold Attraction of Provence

Next post

10 Best Places in Provence to Hike and Walk

Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith is a lifelong traveler who got his first taste of overseas life during a semester abroad in England. But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland that made him really fall in love with Europe.

After returning to California, he and his wife Val dreamed of living abroad again but couldn’t find another expat gig, so they invented their own. Now they split their time between California and St-Rémy-de-Provence, delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.

Keith is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both available from Amazon.

This article is based on content that Keith is collecting for his third book, “An Insiders Guide to Provence,” with a publication date of December 2021. Click here to pre-order the book.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.